From its down-and-dirty title to a lurid ad campaign that screams "Everything's hotter down south!" over images of a sweaty Samuel L. Jackson looming over a half-naked — and chained — Christina Ricci, everything about Craig Brewer's follow-up to HUSTLE & FLOW is designed to make you think you're in for the sleaziest, Southern-fried potboiler since SHANTY TRAMP. But while the film kicks off with a steamy shot of Ricci strutting down a country road in cowboy boots and hot pants short enough to shame Daisy Duke herself, Brewer’s torrid tale turns out to be a surprisingly sweet — if not entirely innocent — fable about emotional redemption and self-worth.
Just hours after her sweetheart Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) leaves town to fulfill his commitment to the National Guard, Rae (Ricci), a "bad" girl with a terrible cough and a worse reputation, is out on the dusty backroads of her small Tennessee town looking for a little fun. After a sweaty night of pills, booze and random sex, Rae is beaten up and clad in nothing but a barely there crop-top and a pair of white panties, and then dumped in a ditch not far from the small farm owned by Lazarus Woods (Jackson). Lazarus is an aging musician who's just gotten another lesson in the meaning of the blues: His bored younger wife (Adriane Lenox) has just left him for his own younger brother (Leonard L. Thomas). Finding Rae sprawled unconscious on the side of the road, Lazarus scoops her up and takes her inside, but having already been "toe to toe with the law… for no more than being black and nearby," he decides against calling the police, even though Rae clearly needs a doctor for both her bruises and her high fever. Instead, Lazarus cleans her up as best he can and gets some help from Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson), a pharmacist who slips him a bottle of prescription medicine free of charge. Still delirious with fever, Rae mumbles the name "Tehronne" (David Banner), a dealer and a small-time pimp who assures Lazarus that he never laid a hurtful finger on Rae. Tehronne does, however, warn Lazarus that if he’s thinking of shacking up with Rae, he should know that she's subject to spells of nymphomania that send her out into the night like a cat in heat. Lazarus is thinking nothing of the sort, but to keep her from wandering off in a fever delirium, he ties her to his radiator with a heavy gauge chain. When she finally comes to and demands to be freed, Lazarus realizes that while her body might be healthy, her soul is still sick, and decides to keep her captive until he can “cure” Rae of her wicked, wicked ways.
By neatly overturning every sleazy element in the exploitation formula to expose a very human reality underneath (the title turns out to be the name of a blues standard by Blind Lemon Jefferson that has nothing to do with what you might think, and even Rae’s nympho attacks are given an empathetic spin), Brewer has made what can only be called a revisionist drive-in movie, and his determination to subvert expectations at every turn lends the film a somewhat deliberate feel. Still, it's beautifully shot — the sweat-drenched jukejoint scenes are particularly evocative — and features a terrific performance by Ricci, one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience than the one certain to be reeled in by those torrid ads.
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